Thursday, October 19, 2006

Book 93: Armageddon's Children

Terry Brooks revisits the world of his greatest work: The Word and the Void. That original trilogy was set in a modern day United States where there are demons working for the Void trying to turn humans to acts of evil to twist the world to be a more violent, dangerous, and lost place. John Ross, a Knight of the Word, fought daily against visions of the future that he had to try to prevent. Ross's visions were of events that could happen in his own lifetime and for all of Ross's success, all he did was delay the inevitable. Armageddon's Children is set some eighty years after Angel Fire East and the world is a ruined place and things are only fixing to get worse. Pollution is out of control, a nuclear war occurred, the humans which are "safe" live in compounds (like Seattle's Safeco Field) warded off against the outside world. Those compounds are all under siege and they are falling day by day until there will be nowhere left to run or hide. In Seattle there are gangs of children calling themselves Tribes. Adults have failed them and street children are not allowed in Compounds so they must survive by becoming their own families and looking out for each other. Humans who had been caught outside for too long and who somehow survived drinking radioactive water and eating off of the poisoned land have mutated. This is our world, only broken. This could be our future.

Terry Brooks works on four storylines in Armageddon's Children. One storyline is of a Tribe of children in Seattle called the Ghosts. The Ghosts are led by an older boy named Hawk who is just trying to keep his family alive. It is through Hawk's eyes that we see what his world and our world has become. Two storylines have to do with the two known remaining Knights of the Word: Logan Tom and Angel Perez. Logan Tom has been sent by The Lady to find the Gypsy Morph somewhere in the Northwest. The Gypsy Morph is a being of great power and magic and which we know was somehow born to Nest Freemark after Angel Fire East. Before I mention the last two storylines I need to mention what had been previously rumor and conjecture. Up until the announced publication of this novel it was suggested that the Word / Void Trilogy could be the world before The Great Wars that ruined the world and slowly evolved into the Four Lands that we know in the Shannara novels. This was always a great theory. In interviews before the publication of Armageddon's Children Terry Brooks finally admitted that this was true. That in his next trilogy he would start bridging Word / Void with Shannara. So, that brings us to storyline number three: Angel Perez. Angel Perez is another Knight of the Word who has been fighting to rescue as many children as possible before compounds are overrun by the demons and Once-Men. She is given a new mission: to find the Elves and to help them find some Elfstones. Now, elves have nothing to do with Word / Void, but have everything to do with Shannara. And that brings us to storyline number four: The Elves. We actually find out about the elves before we find out about Angel Perez and when they appear and they mention the Ellcrys, longtime readers of Terry Brooks knows without question that the two series have now been linked. The Ellcrys has given one of the Chosen a mission: to find the seeking elfstones to located the Loden Elfstone to carry the Ellcrys out of the Oregon woods whole. This may not make sense to readers who have not read Elfstones of Shannara or The Elf Queen of Shannara, but Brooks makes these concepts fairly clear even to newer readers of the series.

So, that's what Armageddon's Children is about. Is it any good? Yes. The more Brooks stays to the feeling of Word / Void the better the book is. I know that we're bridging to a more traditional fantasy series, but he gives better description and characterization and storytelling when he is working in the more natural setting of Word / Void. There are references a plenty to the previous trilogy and several references to things we know from Shannara and even an explanation of why there are demons walking the land considering the nature of what we know of the Ellcrys. The primary complaint is that this is the first book of a trilogy so Brooks spends 350 pages setting stuff up and giving us some action and storytelling, but nothing is resolved. He ends with a cliffhanger (almost literally) and rolls right into Volume Two of this trilogy. Brooks does not tell a complete story. Let me contrast this with his four book Heritage of Shannara series. Each book told a complete story while still building to the larger story of the series. That is what is missing here. It is not a book that can stand alone, but because of the ties to the excellent Word / Void series it is a harkening back to when Terry Brooks was writing strong fantasy with solid description. Brooks intentionally stepped away from that, publishing a book a year and desiring to write faster, more action packed novels rather than longer works of greater quality. He sacrificed quality for quantity even though his sales did not decrease. This is a step back towards some of that quality, though I know that is because he is forced to be more descriptive about the world as it has changed from Angel Fire East and is nothing like The Four Lands. This book is designed as a book where new readers can step in and not feel lost because they haven't read 20 books on both sides of the timeline but will also reward longtime readers. Armageddon's Children is a success in for both groups of readers and while not perfect it is a strong work in the catalog of Terry Brooks.

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